It’s not every day that the president of the United States intersects with the world of theatre. After Lincoln, who could blame him? Yet that is exactly what happened when President Obama appointed Center Theatre Group Associate Artistic Director Diane Rodriguez to the National Council on the Arts last year. She was confirmed by the United States Senate in late November.
As part of the advisory body for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Rodriguez will review and make recommendations on applications for grants, funding guidelines, and leadership initiatives, and advise the NEA chairman on agency policies and programs. As Chair of the Board of Theatre Communications Group, the national service organization for professional theatres, her interests are varied. Among them are “creating a national touring network for artists, exporting American theatre work to the world, supporting initiatives at theatres that support new forms of storytelling, reviving the Theatre Communications Group/NEA career development award for directors and designers, supporting more theatre festivals, and creating demand for the theatre by having audiences and communities experience making art,” she said. “If I could make some change and have an impact, how great if it was with one of the above?”
Many of these interests are in line with the work Rodriguez has done over the past 21 years at Center Theatre Group. In her previous position as the Director of New Play Production and Co-Director of the Latino Theater Initiative at the Mark Taper Forum, she increased the diversity of voices on Los Angeles stages and promoted the development of a new generation of playwrights like The Rude Mechs. More recently, she co-curated Radar L.A., a festival that spotlights interdisciplinary collaborative theatre, and was a driving force behind Center Theatre Group productions Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven and Through the Looking Glass. These projects have encouraged new theatrical modes, welcomed new and underrepresented audiences and performers, and spurred communities to see themselves as creative forces.
Rodriguez’s influence already extends beyond Center Theatre Group and Los Angeles. In addition to spending eight years on the Theatre Communications Group Board, she also serves on the steering committee for the Latina/o Theatre Commons. “I've spent years thinking about the bigger picture while also remaining an artist and a regional theatre worker,” Rodriguez said. She has also directed, acted—winning an Obie Award for her performance in Heather Woodbury's Tale of Two Cities—and written plays. Her latest work, The Sweetheart Deal, is being co-produced by the Latino Theatre Company and El Teatro Campesino in 2017.
She will draw on all these perspectives on the National Council for the Arts. “I've been in the theatre all my life. I've done everything: sewn costumes, designed them, acted, directed, written, and produced.” said Rodriguez. “I have lived at this intersection for a very long time. It's not an easy balance, but it is one that keeps me anchored.”